The Russo family chose a high school for their two daughters in the same way many families choose a college. They researched and interviewed prospective schools. They visited. They spoke to administrators, teachers and other parents.
And then they chose Mt. Spokane High School, more than 1,000 miles from the Russos’ home in Denver, Colorado.
“I needed to find a place where my girls could go to school, get a very good education because they deserve that and be accepted and not judged,” said Michelle Russo.
Lydia and Kristina, 15, hated their school in Colorado. The two teenagers both have challenges of one kind or another, Russo said. Kristina was adopted when she was 8 years old and Lydia was born prematurely. Russo said the schools in Colorado were overcrowded and unable to accommodate her daughter’s needs. He added that Washington has some of the better trauma-sensitive schooling practices nationwide.
“They’re horrible,” Mike Russo said of the schools in Denver.
Mike is an elevator mechanic, which made relocation easier because of the job demand. Michelle is a stay-at-home mom who started the school research, which was narrowed to states Massachusetts and Washington.
They ruled out Massachusetts, Mike said, because they didn’t want to live on the East Coast.
They then refined their search further to focus on a combination of graduation rates, suspensions and special education services provided within the school. In February of last year they visited the Mead district. In September, both Lydia and Kristina started at Mt. Spokane High School. Both girls have special accommodations as part of their Individualized Education Plans. Kristina is allowed to leave class if she starts to feel anxious. Both girls are able to listen to music with headphones in class when a teacher deems it appropriate.
While the Russos’ decision is unusual, more and more families are investing time and money into choosing which high school to attend, said Mt. Spokane principal Darren Nelson.
“In my four years now I bet I’ve talked to at least 25 to 30 families outside our area,” he said. “But, the Russos, they were the first ones to say, ‘Gosh we’re going to come here for Mt. Spokane.’ Obviously that was a pretty profound thing for me to learn.”
Usually families move for jobs or other reasons, not solely to go to a certain school, Nelson said.
Jim Reincke falls into that category. He moved to the Spokane area this year from Illinois. The insurance company he works for, Modern Woodsmen of America, gave him two options for relocation. He chose the Spokane area partly for the lifestyle, but also because of the relative strengths of nearby schools.
“What was really important to me was the quality of the education that we could get for our kids,” he said.
Reincke started researching the schools online, using Internet school-rating sites and Facebook messaging people who had children in Spokane-area schools. Then, when he visited Spokane in March he asked everyone he met what schools they recommended.
Central Valley School District kept coming up, he said. Unlike the Russos, Reincke didn’t have a specific aspect of education that he was most concerned with.
“In general excellence,” he said. “But I was also looking to see what extracurricular activities were available … just things the school district had to offer.”
Previously, his four children, who range from third grade to high school senior, attended a small private school in Illinois. He hoped to find a similar environment, albeit in a larger district.
“They were really used to getting very personal one-on-one attention,” he said.
Jacqui Short, a broker for Century 21 Beutler & Associates said schools affect home prices and where people move. Brokers aren’t allowed to give prospective home buyers advice or input on what schools they think are best, Short said. However, most potential buyers, especially from out of the area, already have extensively researched the schools.
“It could be the ideal house, and if it’s not in the right school district forget about it,” Short said.
In fact, a school’s perceived quality can influence a home’s value by as much as 10 percent, she said.
For the Russos, the move has worked. Lydia and Kristina said they feel comfortable and supported at their new school.
“What we would fight for tooth and nail in Colorado … here in Washington they just do it automatically,” Michelle Russo said.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.